Environment-specific selection alters flowering-time plasticity and results in pervasive pleiotropic responses in maize.
Crop genetic diversity for climate adaptations is globally partitioned. We performed experimental evolution in maize to understand how plant germplasm can be moved across geographical zones. Initialized with a common population of tropical origin, artificial selection on flowering time was performed for two generations at eight field sites spanning 25 degrees latitude, a 2,800 km transect. We then jointly tested all selection lineages across the original sites of selection, for the target trait and 23 other traits. Modeling intergenerational shifts in a physiological reaction norm revealed separate components for flowering-time plasticity underlying generalized and local modes of selection. In turn, selection altered the plasticity of each lineage, leading to a latitudinal pattern in the responses to selection that were strongly driven by photoperiod. This transformation led to widespread changes in developmental, architectural, and yield traits, expressed collectively in an environment-dependent manner. Furthermore, selection for flowering time alone alleviated a maladaptive syndrome and improved yields for tropical maize in the temperate zone. Our findings show how phenotypic selection can rapidly shift the flowering phenology and plasticity of maize. They also demonstrate that selecting crops to local conditions can accelerate adaptation to climate change.